Many parents want to use herbs to better their child’s health, but questions about safety come to mind, especially when giving their child an herbal tincture extracted in alcohol.
Most parents new to herbs wonder whether alcohol tinctures are bad for children. I mean, alcohol is bad for anyone if too much is used too often, right? And, because children are much smaller in weight and their bodies don’t metabolize toxins the way an adult’s body does, wouldn’t it make sense that there should be some worry around giving alcohol to them… even if it’s in the form of a natural, herbal medicine?
So here’s the big question.
“Are alcohol tinctures bad for children?”
Will the amount of alcohol a child would receive in several doses of an alcohol-based herbal tincture several times a day harm them? Are these forms of herbal medicine okay for children to take when needed?
Now, I’m not here to convince you one way or the other. This decision is up to you as your child’s parent, but I want to share some basic information I’ve found to help you make a better decision… or at least an easier one. We all want to sleep well at night knowing that we’ve done what’s best for our child, right?
Below, you’ll find some reasons why alcohol is a great solvent for herbs, as well as a few innocent, everyday places one might consume alcohol without even realizing it. I’ll also be showing you just how much alcohol your kiddo is actually ingesting from that tincture they’re taking, and we’ll look at how much alcohol is required to impact their body negatively. We’ll hear what Dr. Aviva Romm, an experienced herbalist, midwife, and medical doctor, thinks about giving alcohol tinctures to children. Lastly, I’ll share some alternatives to alcohol tinctures you can use with your children if you skip alcohol extracts entirely.
3 Reasons Alcohol Is A Great Solvent For Herbs
1. Alcohol Extracts More Compounds From Herbs
Herbs and foods contain fat soluble and water soluble compounds, and alcohol is unique in that it can extract both of these compounds from the herb, giving you a well-rounded end product.
2. Alcohol Is Fast-Acting
Alcohol is also one of the fastest ways to deliver herbal nutrition into the body. Tinctures made from alcohol are absorbed directly into the bloodstream via the mucous membranes of the mouth, throat, and stomach lining. Even placing it under the tongue will get it quickly into the bloodstream, bypassing digestion altogether.
3. Alcohol Extends The Shelf-Life
Alcohol also gives tinctures a longer shelf-life than other preservation methods, and it helps preserve the potency of the active constituents for a longer time. I love making herbal tea, and we drink it frequently even though it only lasts a few days. Compare that to an alcohol-based tincture that will last two years or more!
Everyday Foods That Contain Alcohol
Did you know that small amounts of alcohol can be consumed via eating everyday foods?
It sure can!
Fermented foods, ripe fruits, and some drinks are just a few examples of foods that contain small amounts of alcohol. Let’s look at these a bit closer.
Home-brewed kombucha is a healthy and delicious way to increase digestion and get some healthy fermented foods into the diet. Kombucha contains about .5-1% of naturally occurring alcohol from the fermentation process, and I’ve heard different varieties of kombucha (such as Jun kombucha) can have even more. Even store-bought kombucha has small amounts of alcohol in it.
Sure, kombucha contains a small amount of alcohol from the natural fermentation process, but so do other fermented foods like traditional sauerkraut, fermented fruits, and fermented veggies. Fermented foods are very healthy for the body as they increase the food’s nutritional value and its probiotic and enzyme content too!
Ripe bananas off-gas a large amount of ethanol due to their natural alcohol content — about .5g per 100g of banana (Gorgus et al., 2016). This is why it’s recommended to store bananas separately from other fruits, or they’ll cause them to ripen too quickly and spoil. The amount of alcohol per dose of tincture is less than what’s found in a ripe banana. I don’t know about you, but my little guy can down a lot of bananas!
Even beverages like orange juice have been found to have levels of alcohol worth mentioning. And you may not drink soda, but back in 2012, popular cola brands like Coca-Cola and Pepsi were found to have trace amounts of alcohol in them as well.
As you can see, alcohol is a natural part of the fermentation and ripening processes in many foods. With this being said, you can see how easy it is to consume small amounts of alcohol daily.
How Much Alcohol Is A Child Ingesting From A Tincture?
The amount of alcohol a child consumes from a tincture is very small.
For example, when it comes to tinctures made via the folk method, 100-proof alcohol is what is often used. This means that your alcohol will contain 50% water and 50% alcohol.
One dosing method that people often follow for folk tinctures suggests 1 drop of a 50% tincture per 2 pounds of body weight.
Since the average 5-year-old weighs 40 pounds, they’ll get 20 drops of tincture. Remember that this is at least half water, so let’s say that’s 10 drops total of alcohol. If these 10 drops are diluted in half of a cup of juice, this would end up being .5% worth of alcohol. Now .5% really isn’t that much, especially considering that it’s about the same as you’d find in kombucha or a ripe banana.
How Much Alcohol Will Negatively Affect My Child?
Most of the information out there on alcohol and children is about how bad it is for them, and rightly so. However, much of the information refers to whole drinks of alcohol, not drops of an herbal tincture made with alcohol.
To get some perspective, though, the United Kingdom health service recommends that adolescents (15-17 years old) not exceed 50 milliliters of hard liquor daily. That 50 milliliters are roughly 1,000 drops (10 teaspoons), give or take a few.
But what about young children? How does this information apply to your little ones?
Several dosing equations can help us out.
The first is called Fried’s Rule of dosing, which takes the child’s age in months, divided by 150, then multiplied by the adult dose. Clark’s Rule is similar and requires the child’s weight in pounds, divided by 150, then multiplied by the adult dose.
So, for example, let’s say we have an average-sized, 70-pound 10-year-old child. This child’s upper limit of daily alcohol will probably be around 600 drops a day based on the 15-17-year-old suggestion above. Using Clark’s Rule dosing formula and the average adult’s 30-drop tincture dosage, the child’s dosage would end up at 14 drops of tincture for each dose, which puts them just under 3% of what would be estimated as the absolute max for their body a day.
And just for the record, if you run this example through both dosing formulas, you’ll notice that you get very different dosages. This is why many herbalists prefer weight-based dosages over age-based, especially for herbs that need to be exact. No matter, both formulas are great!
What Do Experienced Herbalists Say About Giving Children Alcohol Tinctures?
Now, I know a lot of herbalists who use alcohol tinctures with children without hesitation. Still, I remember being new to herbs and worrying about giving my little one tinctures made with alcohol. So, I decided it would be nice to hear what someone in the medical industry said on this topic.
Dr. Aviva Romm is well-known in the natural health community as well as the modern medical community. She is an herbalist and midwife who’s raised four children using herbs and is a Yale-trained medical doctor too. She has a lot of experience working with children, and I was curious to hear her thoughts on this topic. Here’s what she had to say.
“Used appropriately, liquid herbal extracts—tinctures—are among the most valuable and effective botanical tools for treating children’s health concerns. They are very concentrated so only small doses are required, and they can easily be hidden in water or a tiny amount of juice with practically no taste for most herbs that you’d use with kids. The amount of alcohol in a dose of tincture is extremely small; however if you are concerned, many herbs are available in glycerites. IF you do use alcohol tinctures with your kids, dilute the tincture in 2 tablespoons of water—alcohol shouldn’t be put directly in the mouth due to risks of damage over time to the delicate oral mucosa. Warmly, Aviva”
3 Ways To Decrease The Amount Of Alcohol In Tinctures
You’re probably okay about giving your child alcohol-based tinctures at this point, but if you’re still hesitant, no problem. No one is forcing you to be okay with it, and the good news is that you don’t have to skip using liquid herbal extracts just because you want to stay away from alcohol. There are some other great options for getting these herbal preparations into your children, minus the alcohol.
1. Evaporate It Out
First, you can try to evaporate some (around 15%) of the alcohol out of the tincture by putting the recommended tincture dose into a hot cup of tea and giving it to your child after the tea has cooled. The hot tea will cause some of the alcohol to evaporate out with steam (USDA, 2007).
2. Change The Route
Next, you can skip the internal route altogether and use the tincture externally. Alcohol-based tinctures can be rubbed onto the skin or the bottoms of the feet instead of being taken internally. Just remember, you would need to increase the amount you use when applying it topically instead of internally.
3. Change The Type of Preparations
Lastly, herbal tinctures can be prepared in other forms using honey, glycerin, or vinegar. These work a bit differently in the body and don’t extract the nutrients in the same way alcohol does. Nonetheless, it’s still a good option.
- Herbal honeys – herbs steeped in honey.
- Herbal glycerites – made with a blend of glycerin and water.
- Herbal vinegars – extracted with vinegar, good for extracting minerals.
You can read more about tinctures, herbal vinegars, and glycerites here.
All Things Considered
- Alcohol-based tinctures are an effective and time-tested way to deliver herbal remedies to children of all ages.
- The dosage of a tincture is the same or less than the alcohol found in common foods and a small fraction of what’s considered to be the harmful maximum.
- Many well-known herbalists and doctors do not have a problem giving their young patients alcohol-based tinctures.
- Other great herbal preparations can be used if you choose to forgo alcohol in your herbal medicine cabinet.
So what do you think? Are alcohol tinctures bad for children? Whatever you choose, the decision is up to you to do what you feel is best for your family. The right choice will depend on different factors, and whatever you decide is the right choice for your kids is okay.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Share your comments in the comment section below!
- Gorgus, E., Hittinger, M., & Schrenk, D. (2016). Estimates of ethanol exposure in children from food not labeled as alcohol-containing. Journal of Analytical Toxicology, 40(7), 537–542. https://doi.org/10.1093/jat/bkw046
- USDA Table of Nutrient Retention Factors. (2007). Retrieved from http://www.ars.usda.gov/SP2UserFiles/Place/80400525/Data/retn/retn06.pdf